Leonardo Da Vinci’s To-Do List from 1490: The Plan of a Renaissance Man

da vinci todo list

Most people’s to-do lists are, almost by def­i­n­i­tion, pret­ty dull, filled with those quo­tid­i­an lit­tle tasks that tend to slip out of our minds. Pick up the laun­dry. Get that thing for the kid. Buy milk, canned yams and kumquats at the local mar­ket.

Leonar­do Da Vin­ci was, how­ev­er, no ordi­nary per­son. And his to-do lists were any­thing but dull.

Da Vin­ci would car­ry around a note­book, where he would write and draw any­thing that moved him. “It is use­ful,” Leonar­do once wrote, to “con­stant­ly observe, note, and con­sid­er.” Buried in one of these books, dat­ing back to around the 1490s, is a to-do list. And what a to-do list.

NPR’s Robert Krul­wich had it direct­ly trans­lat­ed. And while all of the list might not be imme­di­ate­ly clear, remem­ber that Da Vin­ci nev­er intend­ed for it to be read by web surfers 500  years in the future.

[Cal­cu­late] the mea­sure­ment of Milan and Sub­urbs

[Find] a book that treats of Milan and its church­es, which is to be had at the stationer’s on the way to Cor­du­sio

[Dis­cov­er] the mea­sure­ment of Corte Vec­chio (the court­yard in the duke’s palace).

[Dis­cov­er] the mea­sure­ment of the castel­lo (the duke’s palace itself)

Get the mas­ter of arith­metic to show you how to square a tri­an­gle.

Get Mess­er Fazio (a pro­fes­sor of med­i­cine and law in Pavia) to show you about pro­por­tion.

Get the Brera Fri­ar (at the Bene­dic­tine Monastery to Milan) to show you De Pon­deribus (a medieval text on mechan­ics)

[Talk to] Gian­ni­no, the Bom­bardier, re. the means by which the tow­er of Fer­rara is walled with­out loop­holes (no one real­ly knows what Da Vin­ci meant by this)

Ask Benedet­to Poti­nari (A Flo­ren­tine Mer­chant) by what means they go on ice in Flan­ders

Draw Milan

Ask Mae­stro Anto­nio how mor­tars are posi­tioned on bas­tions by day or night.

[Exam­ine] the Cross­bow of Mas­tro Gian­net­to

Find a mas­ter of hydraulics and get him to tell you how to repair a lock, canal and mill in the Lom­bard man­ner

[Ask about] the mea­sure­ment of the sun promised me by Mae­stro Gio­van­ni Francese

Try to get Vitolone (the medieval author of a text on optics), which is in the Library at Pavia, which deals with the math­e­mat­ic.

You can just feel Da Vinci’s vora­cious curios­i­ty and intel­lec­tu­al rest­less­ness. Note how many of the entries are about get­ting an expert to teach him some­thing, be it math­e­mat­ics, physics or astron­o­my. Also who casu­al­ly lists “draw Milan” as an ambi­tion?

Lat­er to-do lists, dat­ing around 1510, seemed to focus on Da Vinci’s grow­ing fas­ci­na­tion with anato­my. In a note­book filled with beau­ti­ful­ly ren­dered draw­ings of bones and vis­cera, he rat­tles off more tasks that need to get done. Things like get a skull, describe the jaw of a croc­o­dile and tongue of a wood­peck­er, assess a corpse using his fin­ger as a unit of mea­sure­ment.

On that same page, he lists what he con­sid­ers to be impor­tant qual­i­ties of an anatom­i­cal draughts­man. A firm com­mand of per­spec­tive and a knowl­edge of the inner work­ings of the body are key. So is hav­ing a strong stom­ach.

You can see a page of Da Vinci’s note­book above but be warned. Even if you are con­ver­sant in 16th cen­tu­ry Ital­ian, Da Vin­ci wrote every­thing in mir­ror script.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in Decem­ber, 2014.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Thomas Edison’s Huge­ly Ambi­tious “To-Do” List from 1888

MIT Researchers 3D Print a Bridge Imag­ined by Leonar­do da Vin­ci in 1502— and Prove That It Actu­al­ly Works

Leonar­do da Vinci’s Vision­ary Note­books Now Online: Browse 570 Dig­i­tized Pages

How Leonar­do da Vin­ci Drew an Accu­rate Satel­lite Map of an Ital­ian City (1502)

1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of bad­gers and even more pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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